As a kid, I loved fairytales. I loved the Disney Princess movies, I loved buying big books of fairytales and nursery rhymes, even if I already had a copy of them. There was something special in opening up a hardcover book that held different illustrations for the classic stories. Some books I bought second hand, and haven’t survived my maturing, decluttering self. But many have; the beautiful books I was given as gifts, or bought new.
I’m not ashamed to say I still love these stories, still love the illustrations and gold pages. The amount of pink on the bottom shelf of my bookcase – where my big books live – is overwhelming. But in the most beautiful, special way. Next to my sewing and cooking books, next to my university textbook, sits Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, numerous collections of fairytales.
I do not believe in magic. And the appeal of these stories is not the magic aspect. It’s the adventure, the lovely but poorly treated girl who finally gets what she deserves. It’s the heart of the story, that yearning to be seen as a Princess. It’s the possibility that, no matter what hardships we face in our own lives, good will win in the end. But that we do not lose our courage or kindness when it seems like we are losing.
This is turning into a bunch of cliches, but it’s hard to avoid that when these stories are based upon a happy ending.
And boy oh boy do I love a happy ending.
I genuinely try to read a range of novels; ones that don’t necessarily end up where you want, ones that are a little tragic. Classics can be fantastic if you want a tragedy. But if I’m being honest, nothing will get me loving a book as much as a happy ending.
That’s partly why I love Jane Austen. The language is beautiful, the story is wonderfully written. But what excites me the most is how everything is going terribly until the last minute. Throughout the novel – or movie, or TV series – everything seems unable to find its way back to good. The wrong people are interested in each other, the family relationships are complicated, the protagonist embarrasses herself (looking at you, Emma, at Box Hill – honestly the worst thing I have ever witnessed), and the reader wonders how anything could ever be good and right in the world again.
And then, the sigh of relief. A man declares his love, a woman realises her faults. Family drama is resolved, friends take their rightful place. The last page, what a joy to read. All is well, and we can relax. We can smile. Our souls settle down again.
I’ve been wondering whether the last page, the happy ending, the world as it should be, makes up for all the tension that led up to it.
In a novel, yes. In a story the ending is made satisfying because of the journey it took to get there.
Can the same be said for reality? If we really were made to be a servant in our stepmother’s house, would walking away with a handsome man really make that all okay?
In reality we would need to forgive, we would need to emotionally move on from what’s happened instead of lingering on the injustice and pain. (I definitely think living in a palace would help this process along, but I don’t think that’s going to happen to most of us, somehow.) (Which means we’re stuck trying to find peace without the luxury of turrets and feasts.)
Imagine the pain of Harriet Smith, Emma Woodhouse’s (poorer) best friend, as she’s rejected by men who are only interested in Emma (Emma, Jane Austen). All because Emma told her not to accept the proposal of the (poorer) man she really wanted. In the end she gets her happy ending, but for 400 pages we’re subjected to the cringe that is her trying to impress men above her class. (Class isn’t quite what it used to be, and clearly Cinderella found a way around this rule, but for Harriet it is quite cringey.) (And almost relateable lol.)
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving a happy ending. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a lil’ watch of Beauty and the Beast every now and then (easily one of the best Disney Princess movies out there). While we do need to have an awareness of our reality and of the unrealistic expectations that such movies or novels can bring, there’s nothing wrong with reading something that warms your heart.